Saturday, June 9, 2007

With resegregation, Charlotte, North Carolina has witnessed a critical loss in intercommunity cooperation and support for public schools

Charlotte’s experience underscores why communities that value robust public support for public education should avoid racial polarization within a school system. Readers can read about Charlotte’s story in the Brief of the Swann Fellowship, filed in Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 by sixteen individuals and a non-profit called the Swann Fellowship. These seventeen amici include former members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education, current Charlotte-Mecklenburg students and parents, and religious organizations that make up the Swann Fellowship, which advocates for a quality, equitable, integrated public school system. Together, these amici have over 40 years of direct experience with de jure segregation, court-ordered desegregation and, after unitary status was declared in 2001, resegregation.

In their brief, the Charlotte amici describe the monumental changes that happened in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools during the era of desegregation. As thousands of parents involved themselves in their children’s newly integrated schools, the public emerged as an unanticipated force in school affairs. Schools benefited from the advocacy of integrated PTAs, bi-racial grassroots advocacy helped tilt school board policies toward more equitable outcomes for African American and less affluent white students, and the business community reversed itself to become a major source of support for an integrated school system. Before 1972, no African American had ever been elected to school board. After 1972, a majority white electorate repeatedly cast winning votes for an integrated school board and no anti-busing candidate was elected to the school board for the next eighteen years.

To the degree that desegregation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg provided a new context for increased racial, social and political cohesion, this cohesion likely would not have materialized if integrated schools had failed to serve the educational needs of CMS students. The evidence shows that CMS students benefited both academically and socially from racially diverse schools. After desegregation the performance of both African American and white students improved, with African American students experiencing the most dramatic progress.

In the 1990s, a new superintendent, explosive population growth, and pressure from new arrivals to Charlotte’s suburbs (who often did not share in the sense of civic investment in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s successful experience with desegregation) prompted the district to move away from the use of busing as a means to integrate its schools and to rely more on the use of magnet school assignments. Schools became more racially identifiable during this period. Still, only 4% of Black students attended 90-100% minority schools in 1995. Soon, that number would skyrocket.

After a parent challenged the district's race conscious magnet admissions policies in 1997, his lawsuit ultimately resulted in a 2001 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools had achieved unitary status, a decision opposed by Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Board of Education. The school board responded to the loss by adopting a “race-neutral” plan in 2002 that sent most students to neighborhood schools. In the very first year of neighborhood assignments, the number of schools with minority enrollment of 91% to 100% more than doubled, and the number of racially identifiable schools jumped from 47 to 81 schools. Two years later, 87 (out of 150) schools were racially identifiable.

Public support for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools soon began to unravel and the discord continues to this day. Predominantly white, middle- and upper-middle class schools are effectively closed to non-white students who live outside of privileged neighborhoods. Achievement data showing inferior academic outcomes in inner city, minority schools has motivated parents of students in overcrowded, majority white schools to stay put and demand that the district prioritize new construction in the suburbs. Parents of students in majority nonwhite undersubscribed schools, angry over chronic low performance in these schools, have demanded that the focus be on addressing the academic crises in racially isolated schools. United only by their anger, voters from Charlotte’s segregated white suburbs and its segregated African American center city recently defeated $427 million in school bonds. Meanwhile, millions of dollars of reform efforts targeting academic performance in racially isolated minority schools continue to fail to achieve the targeted results.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg experience provides a cautionary tale. The costs are high when school districts and communities ignore the connections between racial integration, public support for schools and quality educational opportunities for all students.


Friday, June 8, 2007

Research Links about Segregation

For many people, it may come as a surprise that school segregation still exists, and is still a matter of contention in many districts around the country. A couple of articles discuss school segregation and why it matters: and

The Civil Rights Project has extensively studied the issue of racial segregation in schools. Racial segregation is increasing today and has been for almost two decades. Black segregation has been increasing in the South rapidly. Nationally, Latino students are the most segregated minority group (I'll discuss this more in a future post). However, white students are more isolated than students of any other racial/ethnic group. For more information, see a fact sheet of segregation:

A few other CRP studies are worth mentioning for anyone looking for more information on segregation.
1) The most recent report on school segregation, which discusses the rapid, multiracial transformation of the nation's public schools:
2) A report documenting the rapid resegregation of many school districts, including suburban school districts that were formerly all-white:
3) A report examining the growing segregation and resulting effects on achievement in Denver:
4) A report examining segregation across a metropolitan area (Boston) and how segregation across boundary lines can affect the integration of a student's school, their school's educational resources, and the achievement of students:
5) On a related topic, a report examining the segregation of teachers in public schools:

Finally, for more information on research about the benefits of integrated schools and the harms of segregated schools, the social science statement submitted by 553 social scientists summarizes the extensive desegregation literature. It is


The Tangled History of Housing and School Integration

In 1954, right before the decision in Brown was issued, another integration drama was being played out in Louisville, Kentucky. Andrew and Charlotte Wade, who were black, were looking to purchase a house for their young family in the suburbs of Louisville. They were not having any luck. Although zoning ordinances forbidding the sale of property to African-American buyers had been struck down as unconstitutional years earlier, in practice local realty practices ensured that a couple like the Wades was unlikely to ever move into the neighborhoods they chose. Carl and Anne Braden, two white married journalists who were active participants in the growing civil rights protest movement, knew the Wades through friends. The Bradens offered to buy a house in the all-white suburb of Shively and then sell it to the Wades. On May 15, 1954, two days before the Brown decision, the Wades moved into their new home.

The response in Shively was as violent as any reaction to the Supreme Court decision. The Wades were constantly and dangerously harassed; a cross was burned in the front yard and shots were fired at the house, with several bullets entering through windows. A little more than a month after their arrival in Shively, the Wades' house was bombed while they were away from home. Badly shaken, the Wades returned to the city, fearing for their lives and those of their children. Instead of prosecuting the bombers, local law enforcement targeted the Bradens, whose two cars had been blown up in response to their actions. Amid claims that they were the masterminds behind a massive Communist plot to stir up racial unrest and violence, and thereby overthrow the government of the state of Kentucky, the Bradens were charged under state law with sedition. By the time the charges were dropped when the U.S. Supreme Court nullified state sedition laws, Carl Braden had already served 8 months in jail, and the Bradens continued to be shunned by many even within the civil rights movement.

During the current battle over school desegregation -- in Louisville, the hometown of the Wades and Bradens -- much has been said about the issue of "neighborhood schools." Opponents of voluntary integration extol the importance of a community centered around the physical home, where students can walk to school and play with their classmates on the streets where they all live. Certainly, "neighborhood" connotes something safe and comforting, familiar and intimate, almost like an extended family; no doubt the Wades' arrival in Shively was so disturbing to their close-minded neighbors for precisely this reason. Fifty years later, it is tempting to imagine that the "neighborhood" reaction in Shively was an anomaly, and that diverse neighborhoods could provide a backbone for local, integrated schools.

Unfortunately, the Wades' experience was not an isolated one. For decades after housing discrimination had become illegal, black families experienced a variety of difficulties in trying to move where they wanted. As suburbs developed after World War II, both the Veterans Administration and the Federal Housing Administration (which together financed almost half of all suburban homes in the 1950's and 1960's) initially endorsed the use of race-restrictive covenants and refused to underwrite loans that would introduce ‘incompatible’ racial groups into white residential enclaves. Blacks were systematically denied entrance to these neighborhoods as they formed, and the effect is still evident today. In fact, while cities like Louisville and Seattle have gradually become more integrated over the years, the concentration of isolated, black-majority census tracts in both cities has increased.

Even now, both private and government-sponsored policies and practices in the housing market continue to have a discriminatory effect on minority buyers and renters, and a segregating effect on America's neighborhoods. Public housing has been constructed without an eye to integration of neighborhoods, and indeed often with the intent of further segregating them. As a result majority of African-American public housing residents live in poor, racially isolated neighborhoods. In the last ten years in both the Seattle and Louisville metropolitan areas, more than 68% of Low Income Housing Tax Credit family units were located in census tracts with greater than average minority population. Section 8 tenant assistance program funds are spent disproportionately on affordable housing in racially identifiable, high poverty neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, in the private sector, real estate agents frequently steer people to different neighborhoods based on their race, an illegal practice that has persisted (in up to 15% of cases in which test subjects posed as comparable white, black, or Latino customers) in part because reporting of such methods rarely occurs. Real estate agents have also been shown to give white customers favored treatment over black customers 17% of the time, and Latinos 20% of the time. Mortgage lending and insurance redlining similarly contribute to residential segregation; lenders and insurers offer different terms and policies to minority homebuyers and deny their applications at disproportionately high rates. In both Seattle and Louisville, the rate of rejection of mortgage applications differs by 10% and 11%, respectively, between white and black applicants.

For cities like Louisville and Seattle to strictly maintain "neighborhood" schools, then, is to actively choose segregated schools. Without the countering effect of diversity and multiculturalism at school, most students will not be likely to seek out friendships and opportunities outside their largely homogeneous immediate surroundings. Rather than being safe havens of play and learning, neighborhoods will be incubators for distrust, fear, and intolerance. Conversely, school integration has been shown in studies to directly contribute to stable residential integration. Students educated in integrated environments go on to be far more likely to live in integrated neighborhoods. Families living in cities with integrated schools, especially those with school choice plans like Louisville and Seattle, can be more confident that their children will receive a high-quality education irrespective of where they live. Eventually, residential integration can pave the way to an eventual return – should the cities so choose – to true "neighborhood schools" where diversity will continue to thrive.

To learn more about the connections between integrated housing and integrated schools, read the Housing Scholars and Research & Advocacy Organizations' amicus brief in support of the school districts at


Wake County’s Socio-Economic Integration Plan: Analysis of an Idiosyncratic Landscape

In a 2004 report, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, looking to five school districts as models, argued that race-neutral student assignment plans could further the goals of racial integration in elementary and secondary schools. The Wake County Public School System (Wake County), located in North Carolina, was one such district. In 2000, Wake County abandoned its eighteen year-old voluntary desegregation plan in favor of a socio-economic status plan (SES Plan) that eliminated race as a factor in the creation of student assignments. The SES Plan, because it improved student achievement for blacks, whites, Hispanics, and special education students, led petitioners’ amici in the Louisville and Seattle school integration cases to proclaim that racial diversity may be achieved through race-neutral means. In short, they claimed that the story of Wake County demonstrates how socio-economic status is an appropriate proxy for race in the effort to realize Brown’s vision of school integration.

As explained in a 2005 New York Times report, a 2002 Spencer Foundation report, and the briefs of the Wake County Assistant Superintendent responsible for student assignments, 553 Social Scientists, and the Council of Great City Schools, the story of Wake County does not stand for this principle. This analysis examines three factors—Wake County’s unique demographics, increase in racial segregation, and unusually strong and extended commitment to educational diversity and equality—to demonstrate how the Wake County SES Plan is not a viable model for school districts seeking to promote racial diversity through student assignments. Before addressing these issues, it is first important to understand the historical context behind the SES Plan.

In 1976, to expedite the racial integration of the region, the Raleigh City Schools merged with the Wake County School System, combining the city and suburbs into one district. The district operated under a court-ordered desegregation plan until it achieved unitary status in 1982. Between 1982 and 1999, Wake County implemented a voluntary desegregation plan in which each school was required to have a minority enrollment between 15% and 45%. Comparatively, Wake County’s plan was a success: whereas 70% of the nation’s black students attended schools that were predominately black in 1999, only 21% of Wake County’s black students attended predominantly black schools.

In 2000, Wake County adopted a new assignment policy that eliminated race from consideration in student assignments. The new policy established the goal that no more than 40% of a school’s total enrollment could be comprised of students eligible for free-and-reduced-price lunch (FRL) and no more than 25% could be comprised of students performing below grade level on state exams. Under the SES Plan, Wake County’s diversity level, although it decreased slightly, remained comparatively high.

Wake County’s success is praiseworthy, but does not guarantee the viability of race-neutral policies beyond its borders. The New York Times report explained that Wake County’s “unusual circumstances” suggest that its positive results may not be replicable across the country. Similarly, the brief of 553 Social Scientists stated that, “Wake County has a set of special conditions rarely found in major schools districts” and that socioeconomic diversity has created racial integration only in districts that share these precise conditions (553 Social Scientists, Appendix 49).

First, and most importantly, Wake County’s success is particular to its demographics. Wake County is the 22nd largest school district in the nation; as of 2006-2007, it enrolled 128,072 students in 147 schools ( In 2005-2006, the student racial composition was: 55.4% white, 26.9% African American, 9.2% Hispanic, 4.7% Asian, 3.5% multiracial, and .3% American Indian. Id. While a fourth of Wake County students live in poverty, African American students are about ten times as likely to be poor as white students (553 Social Scientists, Appendix 49). According to Walt Sherlin, the Assistant Superintendent, Wake County maintained relatively high racial diversity under the SES Plan because, “its African-American and Latino students are nearly ten times more likely to be eligible for FRL than white students. . . . Put simply, Wake County has relatively few white students who come from low-income families and relatively few African-American and Latino students who come from more affluent families ” (Sherlin, 5). These numbers are unique because “their convergence in one county is rare” (Sherlin, 7). Accordingly, because of the significant racial disparity between poor and non-poor families, socio-economic integration in Wake County necessarily promotes racial integration. This fortunate by-product of the SES Plan would vanish if, for example, more low-income white students were to enroll in Wake County schools.

Second, despite the demographic factors linking racial diversity to socio-economic diversity, Wake County has experienced a decline in racial diversity under the SES Plan (Sherlin, 2). This fact presents a stark and clear warning: if socio-economic integration diminished racial diversity in Wake County, it would likely destroy it in the majority of districts, where “the distribution of poverty does not fall so heavily along racial lines” (Sherlin, 8).

Finally, Wake County’s success is not generalizable because, over the twenty-year period preceding the plan, residents of Wake County demonstrated an unusually strong and cohesive commitment to racial diversity and equality in their schools. This commitment was demonstrated throughout the 1990s, when well-funded anti-busing candidates consistently failed to win a seat on the school board (Silberman, 145). Therefore, Wake County was not starting from scratch in 2000; to the contrary, many parents were accustomed to and supportive of integration in the name of educational equality (Alan Finder, As Test Scores Jump, Raleigh Credits Integration by Income, N.Y. Times, September 25, 2005). Accordingly, in light of its distinctive and storied legacy of integration, Wake County was uniquely positioned to succeed the moment the SES Plan was initiated.

As the amicus briefs for the Council of Great City Schools (“illogical to require use of race-neutral methods when the compelling interest identified has an explicitly racial component. [Furthermore,] the research does not support [the] assertion . . . that socio-economic status could be used instead of race to achieve [racial diversity]”) and the 553 Social Scientists (“[r]esearch further supports the conclusion that race-conscious policies are necessary to maintain racial integration”) reveal, race-neutral policies are not as effective as race-conscious policies in achieving racial diversity. Wake County does not provide the reason to believe otherwise.